A new Citizen Lab report was published yesterday morning on information controls during the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen.
The report shows in detail how a Canadian company’s technology, Netsweeper, is being used to filter critical political content, independent media websites, and all websites belonging to the Israeli (.il) top-level domain — a major expansion of Yemen’s censorship regime that was implemented following the takeover of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, by the Houthis in September 2014.
The Shiite Islamic Houthis are one of many groups who have been fighting for power in the war-torn country of Yemen for many years. Their slogan (which our report shows painted on the front gates of the country’s main ISP, YemenNet) is “Allah Akbar; Death to America, Death to Israel, A curse upon the Jews! Victory for Islam!”
Research for this report was undertaken over 10 months, and included in country field research and highly detailed technical tests which referenced a wide spectrum of data. We were able to determine that most of the political and local news content blocked by Netsweeper was undertaken in a non-transparent way, with fake network error pages delivered back to users instead of an explicit block pages. Beyond Internet censorship, we also found manipulation of fuel supplies and disruptions to the electrical infrastructure are key ingredients of the armed conflict that aligned with the Houthis overall strategy of information denial in Yemen.
This report is a continuation of research we have done on Netsweeper providing services in questionable country contexts, including Pakistan and Somalia.
On October 9, 2015, Citizen Lab sent detailed questions [pdf] to Netsweeper about their provision of services to YemenNet, their human rights policies, and whether the company undertakes any due diligence, and notified of them their intent to publish a report. We have included our letter to Netsweeper as an appendix to our report. As of the time of publication, the company had not replied to us.
The full report is here: https://citizenlab.org/2015/10/information-controls-military-operations-yemen
Our press release is here: https://citizenlab.org/2015/10/netsweeper-censors-internet-yemen
The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/yemen-using-canadian-software-to-block-internet-access-amid-civil-war-report/article26898441/
Daily Beast: http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2015/10/20/canadian-web-co-helps-yemen-censor-net.html
Toronto Star: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/10/21/canadian-internet-filtering-company-accused-of-aiding-censorship-in-war-torn-yemen.html
Al Jazeera: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/10/22/yemen-rebels-using-canadian-software-to-censor-internet.html